The top two seeds in the NCAA Tournament are Notre Dame and Maryland, but SBI’s pick to win the championship is a team that didn’t even make the Top Four seeds in the tournament.
The Akron Zips are two years removed from being national champions and Caleb Porter has rebuilt his team with a boatload of top prospects that combine to play some of the most beautiful soccer in the country. A No. 5 seed in the tournament, Akron will surely enter the competition feeling a bit snubbed, which just might give the Zips the motivation they need to make a championship run in Porter’s final season before he joins the Portland Timbers.
There are several teams determined to keep Akron from reaching the final, let alone winning it, and Big East power UConn and MVC champion Creighton head that list. UConn is the favorite to face Akron in the Elite Eight, while Creighton could face the Zips in the Round of 16.
Georgetown will be looking to ride the outstanding goal-scoring exploits of freshman Brandon Allen, as well as the tough defending of Tommy Muller, but they face a tough bracket with UCLA and VCU expected to provide the toughest challenges.
Here is a closer look at the second set of brackets for the NCAA Tournament (Here is Part One of SBI’s preview of the tournament):
SBI NCAA TOURNAMENT PREVIEW (Part Two)
Top seeds-(3) Georgetown, (6) UCLA, (11) Tulsa, (14) VCU
Favorite– Georgetown is the pick, having been strong all season in the stacked Big East.
Players to watch– Brandon Allen (Georgetown), Ryan Hollingshead (UCLA), Jason Johnson (VCU), Giuseppe Gentile (Charlotte), Daniel Haber (Cornell).
Sleeper team-Charlotte. So how can a returning national finalist be a sleeper? Simple, they didn’t win the A-10 title and have gone overlooked heading into the tournament, but the attacking duo of Gentile and Jennings Rex give the 49ers a good chance of making some noise for a second straight NCAA Tournament.
Outlook– Georgetown is the favorite, but they face a tough road to the Final Four. Potential match-ups against A-10 powers Charlotte and VCU could test the Hoyas early. You can argue that UCLA’s road to an Elite Eight berth is easier than Georgetown’s, through Tulsa should definitely not be written off.
Predictions- The selection committee gave Georgetown a tough sub-bracket to get through, but having just battled through the brutal Big East conference should have the Hoyas battle tested and prepared. Don’t sleep on VCU though. They own blowout wins against NCAA participants Xavier, Charlotte and Winthrop. On the other side of the bracket, UCLA is the favorite but Tulsa enters the tournament on a good run and they boast some very impressive wins this season. Look for the Golden Hurricanes to pull the upset of UCLA in the Round of 16.
If Georgetown can beat VCU, they should beat a red-hot Tulsa for a place in the Final Four.
Top seeds– (4) UConn, (5) Akron, (12) Creighton, (13) New Mexico
Favorite– Akron didn’t get the highest seed in the bracket, but they enter the tournament on the longest winning streak in the nation and will be the pick ahead of a talented UConn side.
Players to watch-Andre Blake, Carlos Alvarez and Mamadou Diouf (UConn), Scott Caldwell (Akron), Eric Miller and Jose Gomez (Creighton), Kyle Venter and Blake Smith (New Mexico),
Sleeper team– Virginia. Seems an odd label for a program that won a national title just three years ago, but the Cavaliers didn’t have the best season by their standards. That aside, they boast a top striker in Will Bates and could wind up making a run to the Elite Eight.
Outlook– There are some very good potential second-round match-ups in this bracket, such as Creighton-Washington and New Mexico-Virginia, but it is tough to see anyone keeping Creighton and UConn from reaching the Round of 16. Akron is the favorite here, but Michigan enters the tournament with some momentum and could push the Zips in the second round. Boston College has the weapons to cause some problems for UConn, assuming they can get by a sneaky good Northestern side.
Prediction– UConn will face some tough tests on the way, but the Huskies should meet Akron in the Elite Eight. Andre Blake is good enough to lead them to a win, but we’ll give the edge to Akron, a team playing the best soccer in the country right now.